To a world where borders wane

Saptarshi Mallick

Rabindranath Tagore emphasized that life and society can reach to the highest realms of freedom if it actively endeavours ‘to solve the problem of mutual relationship’ (Tagore 4: 628). Bashabi Fraser’s The Homing Bird is ‘a harmonious blending of voice, gesture and movement, words and action, in which [Fraser’s] generosity of conduct is expressed’ (Tagore 2: 495). In her collection, Fraser through the canvas of fourteen poems has judiciously addressed the necessity of adhering to the integrating spirit of human unity, mutual-understanding, love and respect in this world, interrogating at once the divisive forces of society.

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‘Gifts Send Down Roots’

an introduction to Bashabi Fraser by Robert Alan Jamieson

The name ‘Bashabi Fraser’ first came to my attention sometime in the mid 1990s when I was co-editing the Edinburgh Review. It sounded strangely familiar – Fraser was one of the surnames in my native village in Shetland, and ‘Baabi’ a familiar abbreviation for Barbara, a common first name there. By the time we met in 2000, at the launch of the pocketbook, Wish I Was Here, I had seen enough of her poetry to realise that here was an exotic Bengali flower, transplanted in auld Edina. On meeting her, it was apparent that she was no villager but rather a scholar from a great metropolis, a classical Indian dancer and cultural activist, drawing confidently on rich and ancient traditions - and that she had shuttled between Britain and India sufficiently for her to feel at home in Scotland, by the cold North Sea, writing in English.

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From the Ganga to the Tay reviewed by Anjana Basu

Two Rivers: A Shared Heritage

The book is certainly a conceptual and poetic achievement... 

From the Ganges to the Tay is a long poem that winds across the pages in a deliberate setting that mimics the flow of a river. In the pages of this neatly produced paperback, the River Ganges and the River Tay speak to each other of their origins and the different countries through which they flow. It is, given the unique nature of both the rivers and the character of their native lands, a joint fable that spans myth, legend, history and geography.

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From the Ganga to the Tay reviewed by Fiona Wilson

From the Ganga to the Tay: An Epic Poem

The notion that creativity has an intimate, secret connection to water has long nurtured the poetry of South Asia and Northern Europe. Accounts of the legendary origins of the River Ganges are well-known and rivers have featured in the writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Arvind Krishna Mehrota, Bhartrihari, and Keki Daruwalla, among others. In Scotland, a tradition fed by William Drummond, Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and James Hogg has, more recently, issued in contemporary river poems from the likes of Valerie Gillies, Gavin Bowd, and Colin Donati. Now poet Bashabi Fraser and photographer Kenny Munro have teamed up to produce an illustrated "epic poem" in the form of a conversation between two much-celebrated watercourses: the mighty Ganga (Ganges) of India and the "silvery Tay" of Scotland. Besides their storied literary heritage, Fraser reminds us, these geographical features have much in common: each is the longest river in its respective country; each flows in the same direction, from west to east; moreover, each is connected by the history of the British Empire in India, specifically Scots involvement in the jute trade that once directly linked jute plantations by the Ganga with sweatshop factories in Victorian Dundee in a "golden skein," that, in Fraser's words, "wove the nations through years of industrial exchange and interdependence" (p.11).

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From the Ganga to the Tay reviewed by Marc Sherland

It is a pleasure, not to mention a challenging and rewarding experience, to immerse oneself in this epic poem of discovery over and over again, fishing out a new catch every time. From the Ganga to the Tay twists and turns through the pages in rivers of narrative on the banks of which are colour photographs by the author herself and by Scottish artist Kenny Munro, with whom she has collaborated on a number of arts projects. As Munro has observed: ‘The mythical qualities of Indian rivers is profound, with daily rituals imprinted in community consciousness. Scotland’s rivers were also recognised as the life blood of mother earth, and considered sacred, but cultural evolution seems to have clouded our ancestors’ respect for Scotland’s most powerful river, the Tay.’

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From the Ganga to the Tay reviewed by Beth Junor

The myriad connections between India and Scotland, which for many years had been presenting themselves to the poet, finally succeeded in coercing her into this daunting creative project of travel, research, walking, sailing and photography to craft out her epic poem in which the rivers Ganga, mother goddess, and the Tay, masculine symbol of Celtic heritage, converse, question, exchange favourite words, and share history, mythology, fears and hopes. Anthropomorphism is the perfect device for fulfilling Fraser’s intentions, as Paul Robeson knew when he sang, Old man river, he must know somethin’. We attribute to rivers an omniscience, and beyond knowledge, wisdom. The Ganges and the Tay are timeless witnesses as well as key participants in the relationship between India and Scotland.

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Life & Letters

16 February 2013
At once Indian & British, Hibernian & Bengali debashis lahiri pays tribute to Bashabi Fraser

IN Mythistorema, Greek poet George Seferis recalls waking from a dream with his “marble head” in his hands. It is weighty and he has no place to put it down. Its eyes are neither open nor closed. It is trying to speak but can say nothing. The cheekbone tears through the skin; what was at first stone becomes flesh and bone. The poet has not asked for the burden and is not free to discard it. Seldom has this process of burthening been fraught with such self-tortuous moments in the writings of Bashabi Fraser. The “burden” has been a liberation for her and no amount of worldly travail or personal loss can bring her to discard it.

In attempting to write about Fraser’s poetry, I increasingly become a backward-heading, forward-looking Benjaminian angel of history as I try to grapple with the widening vistas of her writing that rise from deep and often sheer emotional wells and broaden into intellectual concerns as rivers do when they approach the ocean.

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Letters to My Mother and Other Mothers

Reviewed by Alastair Mabbott
From Four paperbacks that could make your week: Books and Poetry    

Edinburgh-based poet Bashabi Fraser’s last book, Ragas & Reels, celebrated modern multicultural Scotland. This new volume of poetry comprises the letters she has been writing to her mother since her death in 2005. Ma sounds like she was a remarkable woman. A Bengali of the post-Partition era, she was a University Professor who was unafraid of turning her hand to anything, whether that be teaching herself the harmonium or finally learning in middle age how to be a dressmaker. Bashabi writes of how she sees her mother in every act of generosity she witnesses and of having her back so that she can return all the kindness and support she received growing up. When not reminiscing about the vigil they held at the bedside of Bashabi’s daughter after she was hit by a car, she keeps her mum informed about climate change and current events. It’s a beautiful tribute, with a tone of intimacy and tenderness that’s genuinely touching.


The Herald 6 Nov 2015

Bashabi Fraser Poetry by Malashri Lal

Bashabi Fraser Poetry

Bashabi Frazer’s recent book Letters to my Mother and Other Mothers is a heart-warming collection of poems on the art of bridging many cultures and imbibing human values from each. The poem ‘A Confluence’ carries an apt title and metaphor for transgenerational and intercontinental journeys brought on by a visit to London’s Nehru Centre. Here, India and UK intermingle, Fraser’s memory of her mother in Kolkata and her own daughter in Britain merge, and the eternal image of rivers, the Ganga and the Tay in this instance, binds the personal with the global.

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